Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple has been produced on stage, in films and as a variety of TV programs since its Broadway debut in 1965. There was even a female version of the tale of two very different friends sharing an apartment from the mid-1980s.
It was longtime film and TV producer Garry Marshall who brought together Tony Randall and Jack Klugman for the early ‘70s TV comedy. He’s gone back to the Simon comedy to produce a new version of The Odd Couple TV series, this time starring Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon. It debuts 8:30- p.m. Thursday on CBS.
“Neil Simon did a good job with these characters, but whatever you do, you’ve got to have casting,” Marshall says.
But Perry’s portrayal of Chandler on Friends was more Felix than Oscar.
“It’s funny. When we started this project, a lot of people thought that I would be a better Felix. But in real life, I’m much more of an Oscar,” Perry says. “It’s been a dream come true to play Oscar Madison. It’s big shoes to fill, but we’re doing our own thing and playing it differently. I do a slight Walter Matthau impression in the pilot. In writing the pilot, we came up with our own stuff. We used some stuff from Neil Simon.”
Perry got the idea to do a remake of while driving around one day. He had a cast and a network in mind. That’s when he heard CBS already was looking at such a project.
Once Lennon(Reno 911!) was in the mix, the roles became clear. When Lennon auditioned for the part, he was channeling Tony Randall. He took a little bit of his performance from Randall’s Felix – including an annoying nose-clearing sound – but added elements of his own life, such as being able to play the cello and his yoga training.
“What’s cool about this show is it’s just trying to be funny. We’re just trying to make people laugh. It’s based on chemistry,” Perry says. “We are really lucky that Tom and I have really good chemistry. And we’re using the ensemble cast a lot more than the original show did, so it’s more of an ensemble show, I guess with the two of us at the center, but it’s a really talented group, so we’re using everybody, which is really nice.”